So Danny Williams dropped the mitts yesterday. The scrappy, little winger came out swinging.
Williams donned his blue Gonzaga Vikings jersey — with the captain’s C, no less — Friday afternoon. For a minute, it was just like the old days, down at Memorial Stadium, when a Gonzaga-Brother Rice Celtics high school matchup was primed with passion and maybe a bit of animosity.
Williams confirmed what I alluded to Thursday, that this whole business of no subsidy for a potential American Hockey League team in St. John’s has little to do government providing what amounts to a pittance of financial support to pro hockey, but one of the Premier, Kathy Dunderdale, getting one up on the former boss, Danny Williams.
Rift? What rift?
As my colleague, Brendan McCarthy, wrote Friday, the motive behind the current premier’s decision is shameful.
I might add petty.
For as much as we may believe that we are cosmopolitan, oil barons of the North Atlantic, we still tend to be backwoods hillbillies.
Never mind the province would recoup its $500,000 subsidy to the team, in ways and means so obvious (tax on ticket sales, hotels and restaurants catering to hockey fans, etc. etc.) there’s no need to rehash it all over again in this corner.
Never mind St. John’s has a $50 million building with nothing going on within its walls, save for a scattered concert or monster truck.
Never mind the AHL provides a night out in a comfortable setting for a bit of entertainment through a dreary winter.
Never mind the new St. John’s team might actually raise the profile of the capital city and the province a bit.
No b’y. No money, come hell or high water, for Williams on my watch.
Overheard by a Tely mole deep within Confederation Building this week was a chat between two PR flaks for Progressive Conservative ministers, ministers we can only assume threw their support behind nixing the AHL request.
“... for God’s sake,” one said to the other, “it’s a St. John’s team ...”
Hence, Exhibit B.
Why should provincial money go to ‘town’, when — take your pick — water lines, sewer pipes, roads, wharfs, etc., need fixing ’round the bay?
I’m from Fogo. What’s the AHL doing for me?
Same, maybe, as what the Fogo ferry’s doing for the folks down in Torbay.
The rallying cry behind those who steadfastly support government’s stance not to assist the hockey team is the money could be better used towards more meaningful — vital, if you will — undertakings, namely health care, education, seniors funding, etc.
No one, I believe, would be silly enough to argue sports, or the arts, would take precedence over those critical issues.
But the reality is $500,000 from a $2 billion budget, and growing, is but lunch money, cash that, again, would be recovered.
I refuse, frankly, to believe someone down the street is not getting a bowl of soup because of a small subsidy to an American Hockey League team in St. John’s.
To present such an argument is as incorrect as it is convenient. Incorrect as those who suggest the Maple Leafs left town six years ago because of lousy attendance, that the team was hemorrhaging money through the ice, and there was no parking downtown.
Truth is the parent Toronto Maple Leafs wanted the team closer to home, and unless Newfoundlanders can haul the station wagon into Mile One’s Zamboni entrance, they’re not happy.
In all this debate, the Republic of Doyle television series has been — and how else do you put it? — slagged for receiving $1.5 million in provincial funding. Reality is, an argument could be made Allan Hawco’s show is completely entitled to the money, for the profile Republic has brought to St. John’s and Newfoundland has never been matched, before or since.
And while I’ve never, in my 46 years, passed through the doors of the LSPU Hall, or don’t particularly enjoy the flavour of local, folksy artists who have long been recipients government grants, their contribution to the province is equally important.
Despite the events Mile One has attracted (Junos, Elton John, Alan Jackson, to name a few), there is a segment of society which continues to rail on the state-of-the-art facility. They still pine for Memorial Stadium, April Wine, Mike’s Shamrocks and roller skating.
They’ve also been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.
The potential team for St. John’s is not the first pro club to seek government funding. Out in Winnipeg, which will have to wait at least until Tuesday to find out the Thrashers have officially moved from Atlanta, the Manitoba government has said no to provincial funding for the new NHL team.
However, Manitoba premier Greg Selinger indicated his government would spruce up Winnipeg’s MTS Centre, which will be home to the new NHL club.
So, you see (wink-wink, nudge-nudge), while there is no subsidy in place, there is government money available.
Call it what you like.
Here in Newfoundland, however, any proposal for government funding, re American Hockey League, was shot down in less than 24 hours.
And the reason, apparent to Williams and most of us, is purely personal.
Who knows where this story will lead.
Lucky for St. John’s, the Atlanta-to-Winnipeg deal is taking longer that most pundits had anticipated, meaning Williams, Glenn Stanford et al have a bit more time to try and clear this latest, and some would say not entirely unexpected, hurdle.
Is it a deal-breaker? Possibly.
Is it likely? Wouldn’t bet on it.
Nobody understands more than St. John’s Sports and Entertainment, purveyors of Mile One, that this is the city’s best, and perhaps, only crack at an AHL club for a long time.
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League didn’t cut it, and while the ECHL would be better than nothing, I’m not convinced it would be supported.
So this may rest with Williams and, well, everyone knows he’s spitey, and loves a good fight.
That Gonzaga jersey? He’s got it tied down.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor.
He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org